Vail Daily column: Hot and bothered
Curious as I was about climate change, I had hitherto considered it all a political charade, a conspiracy perhaps, pitting industrial giants against conservationists in an effort by the government to secure green votes. It may be, but there is insurmountable evidence now, from both sides, that there is measurable reality to it all.
Joel Budd from The Economist feels that mankind will have to get better at tackling it — but must also learn to live with it; a counter-point picture that embodies both powerlessness and resignation for all of us. Budd speaks to quixotic verbal gestures from the Pope, Obama and Xi Jin Ping, amounting to nothing new, since the first UN climate-change conference began in 1995, and little has changed.
Hurdles, in the way of tangible change, haven’t changed. Large industrial nations’ reliance on coal-based energy hasn’t helped. Ironically, even the voltaic charge stations for cars get their power from coal-burning plants. The left-leaning bastion for socialism at its finest, Denmark, eliminated subsidies for electric cars, thereby doubling the asking price for Tesla cars. Their political landscape and social climate is also shifting gradually away from welfare and unemployment dependency, and more toward capitalism, as evidenced by both a surge in millionaires, and lack of compassion for the homeless (The Economist, September edition). Current Democratic National Committee debates had, till now, exalted Denmark to BS status (Bernie Sanders). Advisors will have to change the narrative, (or example-country) from here on out, I think.
In 1995, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (bad) was 361 parts to a million. Last year, it reached 399 parts per million. Does that mean 0.000000361 of a part … of what? Greenhouse gas emissions are higher, and 2014 and 2015 were the hottest years on record, with surface-air temps are 0.9 degrees Celsius higher than in the 1880s.
Good: 13.5 percent of the world’s primary energy supply came from renewable sources in 2013.
Bad: 75 percent of this energy came from “biofuels,” i.e. wood, dung and charcoal in poor countries.
Lame: Nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal and gas combined for 1.3 percent.
The global effort to tackle climate change by imposing caps on greenhouse-gas emissions, herefore described as essential for saving the planet, is over. It achieved little and became unworkable. Budd feels that ideas for “intended nationally determined contributions” will produce gallant talk and bluster, but not substantial change. The operative words “intended” and “hopeful” speak to commitment paralysis.
Efforts by China to burn less coal in the next few years have been documented, but India will burn more. Both countries vie to be monarchies based on head-count census results, as if that title somehow suggests omnipotence. India will respond to China by burning measurably more coal, as if to out-do them. China will then drive more cars, chasing the ultimate statistic. Both countries resist the notion that their government (taxpayers) should subsidize wind and solar industries in pursuit of green jobs (they saw Solyndra on their Samsungs, too!) in an expensive effort to save the planet.
Renewable energy is crucial. Mankind will have to adapt, in part, by growing crops that can tolerate temperature extremes and in part by abandoning the worst-affected areas. Budd asserts that animals and plants will need help with transportation across national and continental boundaries. This may be the rationale Obama maintains for weaving together terrorism and climate control discussions, believing that entire nations’ agricultural, subsistence-based economies would collapse. I read a book years ago by a university professor and writer from Florida who asserted that the next world war would be fought over water supply, so both he and Obama may be right. Motivation for Obama’s heavy hand in the political context could be seen as:
• Fear that his Affordable Care Act legacy will be dismantled in 2017, thus needing a backup liberal cause to champion.
• Redirecting national attention away from a lackluster foreign policy engagement policy (some Dems agreed).
Conclusion: More research is needed to deliberately engineer the Earth’s atmosphere to cool the planet.
Pat Mitchell lives in Edwards.